Gospel Reading: Mt 23:23-26
Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”
WOE TO YOU… YOU… HAVE NEGLECTED THE WEIGHTIER THINGS OF THE LAW
After the opening protests on Jewish religious leadership (cf 23:1-12), Jesus next pronounces a set of seven “woes,” specific complaints against the scribes and Pharisees. A woe expresses both the seer’s dismay and his threat of punishment. The Gospel focuses on the fourth (vv 23-24) and fifth (vv 25-26) woes. In the fourth woe, Jesus expands on the inability of the scribes and Pharisees to distinguish between the trivial and the consequential.
In response to the law, the Pharisees tithe their possessions, even their household spices – their “mint and dill and cummin” – but they are neglecting the more important commandments – “judgment and mercy and fidelity” – the very heart of God’s law (v 23). Jesus ridicules this failure to discriminate between what counts and what does not with a joke based on the commandments about unclean animals: the camel (largest animal) and the gnat (one of the smallest insects).
The fifth woe is based on the Pharisees’ practice of washing cups and plates used in ceremonial meals. The externals are given much weight. Jesus turns this into a metaphor about human life, indicating that the scribes and the Pharisees do with themselves what they do with the cups and plates. They meticulously polish the outside of their lives, putting out a clean and pious and lawabiding face, while inside their hearts, they are full of uncleanness – “plunder and self-indulgence” (v 25).
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